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Canada lagging behind in road safety

Whistler conference finds Canada behind France, Germany in road safety

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Canada is lagging behind other countries when it comes to keeping its roads safe, a conference held in Whistler in the past week has found.

From June 8 to 11, the Telus Conference Centre played host to a conference for the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals (CARSP), an organization that brings professionals together to share their experiences and promote research and development towards safer roads.

The conference consisted of a series of talks, discussion sessions and trade shows that drew attention to various issues related to road safety.

One of the prime areas of focus at the conference was Canada’s need to catch up to countries like France, Germany and Sweden in making its roads safer.

Brian Jonah, head of road safety at Transport Canada, delivered a keynote speech that addressed Road Safety Vision 2010 (RSV 2010), a national strategy that aims to have the “safest roads in the world.”

Now at its halfway point, Jonah said Canada is not doing quite as well as it could be in meeting its goals — targets that include a 30 per cent decrease in the average number of road users killed between 2008 and 2010, compared to the period between 1996 and 2001.

A midterm review of the strategy completed in June 2007 found that the targets of RSV 2010 are not being met and that a greater effort is needed in order to reach them.

By 2005, for example, Canada expected to be below 2,700 road fatalities, but the number of deaths actually increased from its 2004 level to 2,900 deaths.

Canada is also off target when it comes to the proportion of fatalities involving alcohol. Canada’s goal was to be at just above 26 per cent in 2005, but it was closer to 30 per cent, though that proportion had gone down from the previous two years.

Jonah pointed to Sweden as a model of road safety in his speech, bringing particular attention to that country’s “Vision Zero” strategy — a strategy predicated on the notion that an acceptable level of fatalities or injuries due to traffic collisions was zero.

That country has introduced a number of tough measures that have included 30 km/h speed limits on roads in densely populated areas where cars could interact with cyclists and pedestrians on roads.

France has likewise made road safety a top priority, Jonah said. Speed cameras were introduced on major roads in 2003, a tactic that he said has resulted in major decreases in average speeds on many French roads.

Former president Jacques Chirac made road safety a priority when he went on TV and said that driving in his country was worse than in Britain, according to Alan Sidorov, a conference organizer and owner of Whistler-based Sidorov Precision Driver Training.

He said in an interview with Pique Newsmagazine that Chirac’s admission led to the creation of a national goal for road safety.

Canada, meanwhile, does not have many political champions for the cause of road safety, according to Sidorov.

In order to help Canada meet its road safety goals, he said there has to be shared responsibility from all parties involved, and that people mustbecome more aware of the causes of motor vehicle accidents.

“A lot of positions people hold on road safety do not bear critical scrutiny,” Sidorov said.

One of the causes of motor vehicle accidents is distractions such as cell phones and tuning the radio while driving, he said.

Ultimately, he argues that when operating a car, that should be the single focus of attention, and pointed out that distractions have accounted for 80 per cent of collisions or near misses.

“If you could eliminate causes of distraction, you could have a safer driving environment,” he said.

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